Making sure Yadier Molina is as fresh as possible during the course of the season is a task equally important and difficult to do. His hitting skills are at the point where it is tough to take his bat out of the lineup, and that impact is not close to the one he makes defensively as one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. His numbers at the halfway point offensively have taken a dip from the past three seasons, but he still provides above average offensive production at a position where offense is hard to come by. Managing his rest could prove important over the last half of the season.
At the halfway point of the season, Molina is currently on pace to play in more games and have more plate appearances than any season of his career. He has played in 74 out of 81 games with all but three of those coming from behind the plate and has taken 303 plate appearances. His current pace of 606 plate appearances would beat by more than 40 his season high total of 563 from 2012.
Molina's high level of playing time is not unprecedented for Molina at this point in the season. Last season through 81 games, Molina had played 77 games and had 313 plate appearances with all but three coming at the catcher position. In 2012, when the Cardinals were just 42-39 at the midpoint of the season, Molina played in 73 games and had 294 plate appearances. A brief trip to the disabled list in 2013 and a few more days off in 2012 prevented Molina from keeping up his incredible pace.
In February, I discussed whether Molina tired when he caught multiple days in a row. Over the last three seasons, there was some evidence to suggest the more Molina played, the worse his numbers were particularly in the power department. The numbers showed an even bigger drop-off if limited to just 2012-2013. Here is the graph from 2012-2013 showing how Molina performed depending on how many days he had caught in a row.
While the information is not definitive, I suggested giving Molina, not necessarily more time off, but strategically planning his days off better so that he had fewer marathon catching performances. So far this season, Molina has played in 15 games where he had played at least five consecutive games at catcher amounting to 58 plate appearances.
Molina's current pace of 116 plate appearances playing at least five days in a row is roughly in line with his average over the past two years (122). Eight of the fifteen games occurred during two stretches. The first came right at the beginning of the season, when Molina played in eight games in a row from April 2nd through the ninth, which is somewhat understandable given the time of year. The second occurred more recently, June 16th through the 23rd.
The fifty-eight plate appearances is not enough to get a sample from, and his .264/.310/.466 slash line could easily be better with a little luck in the average and on-base departments, or his slugging would go down by 70 points by removing just one of his three homers. His overall line this season, .280/.331/.407 with a wOBA of .322 and wRC+ of 107, is a solid half-season despite not reaching the heights of 2011-2013. Molina could be experiencing some age-related decline that happens to all players, or it could be simply a half-season that did not go quite as well as he would have hoped.
Yadier Molina turns 32 in less than two weeks. Just because Molina is unlike other catchers does not mean he can get away without decent rest at his age. The Cardinals have thirteen games in a row beginning on Tuesday, including an important three games in Milwaukee just ahead of the All-Star break. Resting Molina for a day or two in the next ten games so that he is fresh for the Brewers' series could serve as an important breather heading into the break.